The following interview is part of the Omixon interview series that we are conducting with Key Opinion Leaders, Experts and Business Managers at Omixon. Today Efi Melista, Head of Product answers various questions related to her professional background and product management at Omixon.
What made you choose to be a scientist? What did you study?
Even though my mom was a lab technologist, I was never exposed to the laboratory world too much until I reached high school and got interested in biology. During the first year of college I took a diverse range of classes and I instantly fell in love with genetics and genomics (which was just starting to become popular – I’m a bit old… 😉 ). So I ended up specializing in Genetics and Molecular Biology since most of the classes I took were focused on this subject. I’m sure you know what it’s like to just find the one thing you’re really interested in and then surrounding your academic and professional life with it.
What is your professional background?
Before joining the dark side – aka the industry – I used to do research on an academic environment. Over the years, I worked on a few different research projects at Boston University in Boston, MA, investigating the genetic basis of diseases like Sickle Cell Anemia, Alzheimer’s disease and cardiovascular disease. However, my favorite project was studying the genetic basis of centenarians – people that live over 100 years. I got the chance to meet with people that aged 102-117 years old! It was a fascinating experience, not only for the scientific insight we got but also because of how good their quality of life was in comparison to other elderly people of average age (mid-80s). The stories they shared and experience will forever be engraved in my mind. What was interesting in these people from a scientific point of view, was that not only they live very long, but their offspring do too. Our research group found that there are certain age-related genetic markers that indicate one living a long life, but at the same time they are not enough; there are certain markers that are protective to diseases associated with old age. Exploiting those markers would allow scientists to “cure” diseases like dementia, cardiovascular disease, arthritis and more.
What is your exact role at Omixon? What are your main tasks and responsibilities?
I have been with Omixon for about 5 years. It was my first industry experience and a completely different environment than what I knew. Which I loved. I started as a Field Applications Scientist and through the years I transitioned to the Head of Product role. Given that this was a brand new role in Omixon, all of us had to learn what it is about. In short, it’s a cross-functional role, which means that I get to work with almost every single team in the company, from RnD to Inventory to Management to Sales and FASs. My main responsibility is to make sure that the products we develop make it to the market and they fulfill the necessary requirements. We work in a field where what we produce makes a difference in patients’ lives, and that is one very important and heave responsibility.
In addition, one of my main responsibilities is to maintain a constant scientific-focused commercial front which involves a lot of education of the HLA field in NGS and high resolution typing. So, you’ll often find me planning and organizing User Group Meetings, Technical Distributor Meetings and Omixon’s technical parts of the Lunchtime Symposiums at various conferences. In short, if you need anything technical, call me!
Your title is “Head of Product” at Omixon. What does a Head of Product do? What are you responsible for?
The main responsibility of this role is Product Management. Within Omixon, when I assumed that role was the first time we ever had a role like this a couple of years ago, which signified the fact that the company was growing fast and steadily. There are several goals in this role but I consider the main one to be the research and implementation of features that are important and relevant to our customers, into Omixon’s products. Omixon is a company that prides itself in the support of customers and in always listening to what they have to say. With my background in the commercial team as a FAS and strong NGS experience, part of this role came naturally to me. But a lot of parts had to be learnt, just like with anything new. One of the benefits of this role is that it allows me to work with a lot of different people and continuously be connected with our customers. At the very end, it is ALL ABOUT TEAMWORK!
Your position is to collect information from different fields of your industry, filter them and present to your colleagues/management. How does it feel to work and connect with so many people from different areas? Is it difficult?
One of the more exciting aspects of the Head of Product role is that it is a cross functional role. That means that I get to work with almost every team within Omixon, as well as HLA laboratories that are currently Omixon customers and ones that are not. I’m naturally a very social person and having spent a significant amount talking with people (both Omixon customers and all the internal teams) gives me a good understanding of the respective requirements. Everyone has a different view. The challenge is to make those different views align and to make them see the other side’s view. It’s not always easy and it is often a relatively long process but the end result is gratifying because the Omixon teams are proud of their work and the HLA community is happy to be able to rely on a molecular diagnostic product that fulfills their requirements. That is my most proud and enjoyable moment of the journey.
What is the most challenging aspect of your role? Have you ever bumped into problems you did not manage to solve?
I think the most challenging part of my role is convincing different groups of people of different concepts. Customers want one thing, competition is dictating another thing, while our own RnD teams want or believe that a different approach is better. The challenge always is to get the contradicting views to understand the purpose of something different. Sometimes it is only a matter or explaining it with a short description, and sometimes it’s a longer process. Luckily, in the end, we have always managed to achieve a happy medium!
How difficult is it to meet deadlines, following-up with different departments, monitoring processes, always being in the loop?
Deadlines are an interesting concept! In this role I found out that a deadline means a completely different thing to different teams or groups of people. For example, for RnD teams, a deadline is an approximation of the end of product development (often excluding testing, validation etc); to me (product manager) a deadline is the point at which the product is ready to be tested widely at customer sites and ready to be launched soon after; to customers doing testing a deadline is…well, not quite significant or real… What I’m trying to say is that deadlines are always different depending on your point of view. So, the most challenging part of keeping up is to actually ask the “right” questions to each team in order to get the most appropriate and informative answers that will allow you to plan all subsequent steps in the process. The key to manage this is… constant communication (I know it’s a cliche, but so true!).
What is the most considerable achievement you managed to reach in Omixon?
Hmmmm… that’s a very tough question! There are so many small and big achievements that regardless of their “size” have had significant impact. One of my proudest parts of working in Omixon is the ability to work with so many talented individuals. Additionally, Omixon is known in the field for the customer support. A big part of the support is through our FAS team that I personally have worked to put together and set the standards we would like to follow. The personal connections along with the scientific and technical experience and background puts us at the top of any competitive company. In the more recent couple of years, launching new products or product updates are among other achievements, but to be honest, I think the biggest and most exciting achievements are soon to come! Stay tuned with Omixon in the next few months; you will sure be hearing all about it! 🙂
Do you have any other special skills you’re known for?
Yes! Taking selfies and drinking wine! 🙂